Emily awoke disoriented in the moonlit room. The shadows, all in the wrong places, seemed plucked from her unquiet dream. And that sound—that high, keening, human wail rising above the shriek of the storm—did it come from the dream world or the waking one?
She reached to her right to turn on the lamp, but her hand met empty space. Groping to the left she found a switch, and the room came into focus along with her mind. Aunt Beatrice’s room. Of course. She had moved down here yesterday in preparation for the remodeling on the third floor.
But the wail that had awakened her still sounded in her ears. Lizzie? Her infant lungs were powerful, but Emily had never heard her make a sound like that. Her young life could not have seen the depth of anguish contained in that wail.
Emily slid her feet into her slippers, wincing at the chill, and wrapped her ancient fraying bathrobe around her. Following the sound, she groped her way down the back stairs and into the kitchen. The wail did seem to be issuing from Katie and Lizzie’s room next door.
Emily tiptoed to the bedroom door and eased it open a crack. She could see Lizzie in the cradle, sprawled on her back with all her limbs flung out, her breath soughing softly through her open mouth. Emily inched the door farther till she could see the bed. Katie lay tangled in a shroud of sheets, eyes closed but head tossing on the pillow. And that heartrending keening was issuing from her throat.
Oh, Katie. Emily had guessed there must have been difficult times in Katie’s past—it wasn’t likely her parents would have been perfectly loving and supportive for nineteen years before suddenly throwing her out with her newborn child—but this sound spoke of an even deeper pain, one mixed with terror and hopelessness. Emily tiptoed up to the bed, touched Katie’s hand, and softly called her name.
The tossing stopped, and the wail subsided to a whimper. Emily smoothed the sweat-soaked bangs from Katie’s forehead and kissed it. “Katie. Wake up. It’s only a dream.”
This time Katie’s eyelids fluttered, then opened. She blinked several times before focusing on Emily’s face. Then she sat bolt upright. “Mrs. C! What’s wrong? Is it Lizzie? Is the house on fire?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I heard you—I think you were having a nightmare.”
Katie passed a hand across her face and shivered. Emily grabbed Katie’s robe from the bedside chair and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Yes … a nightmare…” Katie pulled the robe around herself and shrank into it.
“You need some cocoa. I’ll be right back.”